Some bullies use their strong emotions to become the center of attention, take control and coerce or manipulate other people to give in and do what the emotional bully wants. Children throwing fits are practicing and learning if that tactic works. Adult masters of emotional bullying are effective with spouses, partners, friends, extended families and at work. Some bullies are especially effective in places where other people’s politeness keeps them from stopping the bullying – like at parent groups, reading clubs and parent-teacher meetings.
These “Drama Queens” and their male counterparts have strong emotions and over-the-top reactions. They come in many forms.
- No matter how trivial the problem at school, Claire’s daughter was never at fault. If Claire’s child didn’t get the special treatment she wanted, or if her child was marked down for not completing an assignment or for misbehaving, or if her child wasn’t the first or the most successful, Claire threw a fit. In public, she yelled at other children or at teachers and the principal. She threatened law suits. Pretty soon, teachers allowed her spoiled, bratty child to bully other children.
- James had three young children, but he was always the center of attention. If he didn’t get waited on instantly or was asked to do something that interfered with his personal plans or comfort, his constant irritation blew up into outrage and anger. He yelled at his wife and the kids. He blamed them for disturbing him and punished them in nasty ways for days. Usually he was allowed to do anything he wanted and was rarely asked to help. His wife said, behind his back, that it was like having a giant kid in the house.
- In the workplace, Tracy ranted in her office, but never followed through with her threats or promises. She moved on to turn the next problem she saw into a catastrophe. But once she’d blown up at you, no amount of good performance would get you out off her “bad” list. She’d sabotage you without telling you why. Pretty soon, everyone did exactly what she wanted. They didn’t want scenes and they didn’t want Tracy to stab them in the back.
- Charlie was a lousy friend, but everyone was afraid to tell him. He was always late, took up the whole time talking about himself and needed everyone to help him do what he said he “needed” to do. He borrowed but never returned, he never had money to cover his share of activities and all the fun had to wait until he arrived. If anyone wouldn’t wait or tried to stop his narcissistic speeches or wouldn’t give him what he wanted, his feelings were hurt. He was crushed, incensed and ranted for hours; he never let go of a perceived slight. Of course, it was just easier to give and go along rather than to offend him.
Although they come in many forms, Drama Queens share some common traits. They:
- Are hypersensitive, highly emotional and easily hurt. They’re super-intense, angry, hostile and emotional. They over-react as if everything is a matter of life and death.
- They misunderstand, jump to conclusions and blow up and demand apologies.
- Are perfectionistic, nit-picking, control freaks. They’re vindictive blamers. They take everything personally and remember forever.
- Take over every situation or group. They act as if their drama is more important than anything else in the world. Nothing and nobody else matters; not even getting results.
- Think that spewing of emotions reveals the “real” person. They’re uncomfortable with people they see as expressionless. To Drama Queens, loud emotions show strength; calm people are wimps.
Unless we stop them, we end up walking on egg shells and deferring to them. Their likes and dislikes rule. Pretty soon they’re in charge.
Drama Queens increase everyone’s anxiety, stress and depression. Most people mistakenly accept the blame for triggering the Drama Queen. They also create chaos. Their hyperactive, panicky, adrenaline-rush is addictive and contagious. Soon, everyone is on edge and ready to blow up at the slightest provocation.
Logic and kindness won’t change them. And you won’t cure them. Their tactics have made them successful since childhood. Only a devastating comeuppance or years of intensive therapy or coaching have a chance of changing that style.
When possible, vote Drama Queens off your island. You’ll need carefully planned tactics if they’re in your extended family or live on your block and their kids are friends with yours. At work, try to document activities that destroy teamwork or are clearly illegal. You won’t get anywhere if you want the big bosses to act because the Drama Queen hurt your feelings.
If the Drama Queen or King is your spouse, I’m sorry. You’ll have to demand behavioral change while you prepare to move on. Usually, they won’t grow up and learn a new style unless they have to. They’d even rather get a divorce and blame you than change their style. Drama Queens are addicted to their habit – knowing that they’re the center of the universe – and need repeated fixes.